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Love Kurts in 'Kurt & Courtney'

[whitespace] Nick Broomfield's seedy documentary 'Kurt and Courtney' makes charges it can't back up

By Gina Arnold

THE CONTROVERSIAL new documentary Kurt and Courtney bears the brave legend "Banned at Sundance!" The film was ejected by the festival in the wake of pressure from Courtney Love's lawyers (the film shows for two more weeks at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, pending any new legal difficulties).

Love's legal team claimed that filmmaker Nick Broomfield hadn't cleared the rights to the music used in the film, and that may well be true (the scenes in question have been cut from the version now showing). Even so, there's an inherent irony in the fact that Love managed to get the film stopped. After all, she starred in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, a movie about freedom of the press; in Kurt and Courtney, she is shown giving an award at an ACLU dinner celebrating First Amendment rights.

But Love, says Broomfield, is in fact an enemy of the press. Although Love has released one record (Live Through This) and made only one film since 1991, the conveniently timed death of her husband, Kurt Cobain, has left her rich enough and powerful enough to quash all criticism. And the litigious Ms. Love, Broomfield adds, is very, very good at quashing criticism.

On the other hand, who can blame her? Broomfield's movie purports to look into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the 1994 suicide of Cobain--and the murder suspect it names is Courtney. But the film raises such suspicions only to dash them, making one wonder why they were raised at all.

Indeed, Kurt and Courtney, like the famous couple, is a movie with a split personality. The first part is a detailed and moving look at Cobain's childhood. The centerpiece is a poignant interview with Cobain's aunt, who plays home tapes of Kurt, aged 2, singing Beatles songs. Broomfield also takes a glancing look at Cobain's hometown, Aberdeen, Wash., and makes reference to a troubled home life, but he skips entirely any mention of Kurt's move to Olympia, Wash., the formation of Nirvana, the rise of grunge, the success of Nevermind and what it all meant to the music industry.

Suddenly, the movie plunges into a look at the life of Love, and here is where it becomes extremely murky. Broomfield skips mention of who Love is and what she's done, merely assuming that viewers know the story by heart.

He focuses on her sordid life in Portland, Ore., in her early 20s. No mention is made of the circumstances surrounding her marriage to Cobain, the controversial nature of her music or the troubling aspects of the birth of their baby, Frances Bean. Instead, Broomfield sticks to interviewing people who knew Love years ago and have little good to say about her.

The bias is unmistakable--and apparently necessary, since not many people are willing to step forward in Love's defense. And the only people who are willing to go on camera are, for the most part, incredibly disreputable.

Love is essentially accused of murdering her husband by three people--Tom Grant, a private investigator whose quest to find a killer has been more of a publicity stunt than a real investigation; Il Duce, the scary leader of the rock band the Mentors; and Love's own father, Hank Harrison. The testimony of all three seems fairly worthless, to the point that even the filmmaker himself begins to doubt their veracity.

IN THE END, Broomfield comes off like one of the very people he's making fun of: someone with an ax to grind. Granted, Love's not an attractive personality, and her switch from New Wave groupie to grunge queen to movie star to Versace clotheshorse has been startling, to say the least. But the leap to murderer is a very long step indeed.

Moreover, Love has clearly made a huge mistake in attempting to get the film blocked. Her action merely plays into the hands of Broomfield, who spends much of the film talking about her attempts to intimidate all negative press. One can surely sympathize with her desire not to be publicly called a murderer, but the accusation makes Broomfield look bad, not Love.

Love needs to come to terms with the fact that she is a public figure and thus open to criticism. If she'd left the film alone at Sundance, it wouldn't have gathered half the publicity it has. There's still a great deal to be said about Hole and Nirvana, the history of grunge, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. But the truth is, Nick Broomfield doesn't say any of it.

Kurt and Courtney (Unrated; 99 min.), a documentary by Nick Broomfield.

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From the March 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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